America’s best idea is being loved to death. Our national parks encompass some of the most amazing places America has to offer, and with record visitation in 2020 and 2021, our national parks are more popular than ever. But our parks need our help.
Our national parks face $12 billion in deferred maintenance. This deferred maintenance doesn’t just represent crumbling bridges and dilapidated boardwalks. There are environmental consequences of deferred maintenance, too, like leaky wastewater systems that pollute rivers. When our park infrastructure fails, we fail the wildlife of that park.
The status quo of funding parks involves overcoming political hurdles, which means parks are overwhelmingly reliant upon fickle political winds. That can and should change.
Recent efforts like the Great American Outdoors Act have been a start, but more work remains. The act might have permanently funded federal land acquisition, but it only set aside money for public land maintenance for five years. If we want to avoid digging an even deeper deferred maintenance hole, we will have to find ongoing, reliable funding sources to address routine maintenance needs.
At its core, conservation is about maintaining and stewarding what we already own. And user fees are already a vital tool for empowering park visitors to directly contribute to the care and maintenance of the parks they enjoy. Where appropriate, modest fee increases can generate millions more in revenue, adding much-needed funding for our national parks. Plus the money generated from user fees stays in the park to help care for the very things visitors are there to see.
So the question is, what would you pay to ensure our national treasures are properly cared for?